THE HERALDED clean-up has started at Slovakia’s Environment Ministry. Acting Environment Minister Dušan Čaplovič was charged with the task of tidying up the mess that the previous ministers from the Slovak National Party (SNS) had left behind: the bargain-basement sale of Slovakia’s emissions quotas, a dubious tender for disposal of fly ash and the leasing of valuable land at a price of just a few cents per hectare.
Prime Minister Robert Fico withdrew the Environment Ministry from the control of SNS in mid-August along with sacking its minister, Viliam Turský, over the questionable deals.
While Čaplovič was able to kill two of the deals arranged by the previous SNS ministers within a few weeks, it appears that the lucrative contract in which Slovakia sold its excess emissions quotas to a company named Interblue Group at a low price will continue to keep the country’s attention a little bit longer and prevent the government from escaping its less-than-favourable terms.
In early September, Čaplovič killed the agreement under which the Žilina-based state water utility company rented 300 hectares of land near the Gabčíkovo dam to the Xiland company for an annual price of about €0.02 per hectare for 99 years.
Čaplovič, a Smer nominee who also serves as Deputy Prime Minister, also ordered the CEO of the water management company, Peter Nemček, to immediately terminate another controversial deal involving disposal of fly ash from state-run power plants which had been awarded to the Esco Krupina company at a price tag of €85 million.
The careers of two department heads at the ministry were also abruptly ended by Čaplovič. Katarína Šašková of the department of environmental programmes and Oľga Sršňová of the department for environmental programmes were sacked, according to Michal Kaliňák, Čaplovič’s spokesperson.
The Esco Krupina firm was chosen as the winner of the tender even though it did not offer the best price. The Trend business weekly has suggested a connection between Esco and the ruling Smer party.
Meanwhile, Interblue Group lost its exclusive pre-emptive right to purchase more of Slovakia’s excess CO2 emissions quotas based on Čaplovič’s decision on September 8.
Jana Lutken, the authorised representative of Interblue Group, whose registered address is a lock-up garage in the United States, was also informed in a letter that the Environment Ministry’s state secretary, Miloslav Šebek, is now charged with handling further contract negotiations between Slovakia and Interblue Group.
Interblue Group bought Slovakia’s excess CO2 emissions quotas in November 2008 at a price of €5.05 per tonne. Opponents of the sale have been arguing that this is far below the price that Slovakia’s neighbours received for the sale of their quotas. Slovakia may have lost as much as €66 million on the sale to Interblue Group, the opposition parties say.
After initially defending the sales contract, Prime Minister Fico admitted for the first time in late July that Slovakia might try to withdraw from it.
Lucia Žitňanská of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) said that Čaplovič resolved very little by cancelling Interblue Group’s pre-emptive purchase right unless the government terminates the whole contract.
“I still believe the best and quickest way would be an agreement on cancellation of the contract,” said Žitňanská, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
By the cancellation of pre-emptive purchase rights, Slovakia will be free to sell approximately 32.5 million tonnes of emission credits (also known as AAU). Because the contract remains valid, the Interblue Group can still purchase 35 million tonnes of AAU from Slovakia at a price of €5.05 per tonne, Sme wrote.
The SDKÚ has said it would file a complaint with General Prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka and propose that the contract be declared invalid.
The deal has cost the seats of two environment ministers, Turský and his SNS-nominated predecessor Ján Chrbet. There has also been some confusion around the so-called emissions reports that should have been submitted for review by parliament.
The first report was prepared by minister Turský, but after his dismissal, Čaplovič was tasked with preparing a new report which has not yet been discussed by the responsible parliamentary committee and for that reason it cannot be submitted to the September session of parliament.
In commenting on Slovakia’s future sale of excess emissions quotas which the country could regain if it killed the Interblue contract, Fico told public broadcaster Slovak Radio that “no one wants the emissions quotas now”. However, Sme was quick to report that in early September the Czech Republic was busy wrapping up four emissions deals worth at least €200 million.
Also according to Sme, Hungary and Latvia are in the process of selling their quotas while the Japanese government has allocated funds for the purchase of 100 million tonnes of quotas and Spain has also expressed an interest in purchasing quotas.
14. Sep 2009 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová